Scottish independence and the English working class


By Campbell Martin
In 2006 Tony Benn said, “The Labour Party has never been a socialist party, but it’s always had socialists in it, just as there are some Christians in the church.”
There are now very few socialists in the Labour Party and it would certainly be impossible to square Labour’s policy agenda with socialist beliefs.

Today’s Labour Party has long-since abandoned any pretence of seeking to represent the views and interests of the working class: right-wing English newspapers branding Labour Leader Ed Miliband as ‘Red Ed’ is simply ridiculous mischief-making.  As was the case with Labour Governments led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the party under Miliband is a Tory clone, championing the free-market capitalist system, demonising immigrants and dividing the working class between what they believe to be  ‘hardworking families’ and the ‘undeserving shirkers and skivers’ on benefits. 

It was Labour that introduced the Bedroom Tax – the Tory-Lib Dem coalition extended it to the public sector.  Thirteen-years of Labour governments refused to scrap Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws, the most draconian in Europe, while under the Blair and Brown administrations the gap between the rich and the poor widened to record proportions – with Peter Mandelson stating New Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”.

Yet a constant theme of ‘Scottish’ Labour’s anti-independence propaganda argues from a socialist perspective that it would be wrong for Scots to abandon the working class of England to perpetual Tory Governments.  If we retake our independence, they say, our brothers and sisters in England will be governed forever by the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson.

Before looking at the ‘abandoning the English working class’ line, it’s worth mentioning that there is no such political party as ‘Scottish Labour’.  Despite fielding candidates under the banner of the ‘Scottish Labour Party’, no such organisation is registered with the Electoral Commission.  ‘Scottish Labour’ is simply a ‘description’ registered by the ‘Labour Party’, which, of course, has its headquarters in London.

Speaking to the recent Labour Party conference in Brighton, ‘Scottish Labour’ leader Johann Lamont MSP condemned as “narrow nationalism” the campaign to re-establish Scotland as a normal, independent nation.  Presumably, every other normal, independent nation in the world is also guilty of such “narrow nationalism”, but Ms Lamont failed to mention them. 

In the eyes of ‘Scottish Labour’ and their Tory and Lib Dem partners, it is only the Scots who are ‘narrow nationalists’ for simply wanting to re-take the powers that would allow us to govern our own country in the interests of the people of Scotland.

Frequently ‘Scottish Labour’ politicians cite their claimed ‘socialist’ beliefs when they allude to solidarity with the working class of England, arguing that the people of Scotland re-taking our political independence would condemn ordinary English men and women to Tory governments for evermore.  In addition, Labour politicians and activists argue we have more in common with the ordinary people of London, Manchester and Newcastle than we have with Scottish Lairds and millionaire businessmen.  Quite simply, those arguments are false.

Working class Scots certainly do share common bonds with the ordinary men and women of London, Manchester and Newcastle, just as we share common bonds with the working class of Madrid, Marseille and Munich, but we would not accept governments imposed on us by the voters of Spain, France or Germany.

Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, there have been just two occasions when Scottish votes have had any bearing on the outcome of UK General Elections – 1964 and February 1974 (there were two elections that year).  At both those elections, Scottish votes helped Labour to very slim majorities over the Tories. 

On all other occasions, Scottish votes have been completely irrelevant and UK governments have been elected by the voters of England.  We won’t hold our breath waiting for Johann Lamont to condemn the “narrow nationalism” of English voters imposing Tory Governments on Scotland when Scots have voted to reject the party.

The reality is that, within the British Union, every person in Scotland could vote Labour, but if England votes Tory – and it has at a majority of UK General Elections since the war – then we in Scotland will have a Tory Government imposed on us.  It is only by re-taking our political independence that Scots are guaranteed to get the government for which we vote – and it won’t be Tory.

Scotland re-taking its independence will not condemn the English working class to Tory Governments.  The Tories could not have won a majority of elections in England since the war without substantial support from the English working class. 

If the Tories were to continue winning elections in England after Scotland re-takes its independence, then the English working class would require to actually vote for them.  If Tory governments continue to get elected in England after Scotland re-takes its independence, than that will represent a massive failure on the part of the Labour Party.

Meanwhile, in Scotland within the British Union, ‘Scottish Labour’ is not a registered political party: ‘Scottish Labour’ is certainly not a socialist organisation: and the ‘Scottish Labour’ argument that Scotland re-taking its independence would condemn the English working class to perpetual Tory rule is a lie.

It perfectly illustrates how bereft of reasoned argument the pro-British Union campaign actually is that it attempts to persuade us we should continue to accept having Tory Governments – and policies like the Bedroom Tax – imposed on us in Scotland simply to show some sort of warped solidarity with the working class of England.  The unionist ‘logic’ being that if the working class of England are being hammered by Tory cuts then the working class of Scotland must also be hammered by Tory cuts.

Re-taking our political independence is simply re-establishing Scotland as a normal, independent nation.  Once independent, virtually-certain centre-left Scottish governments could act as a beacon lighting the way for the working class of England to throw-off Tory rule and embrace a more enlightened agenda. 

Of course, that would require a political party in England to actually support centre-left policies but, at the moment, all three of the main English parties – including Labour – are firmly on the centre-right.